At its 70th General Assembly meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia, the World Medical Association (WMA) reaffirmed a commitment: "to the principles of medical ethics and that utmost respect has to be maintained for human life". It goes on, "Therefore, the WMA is firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
"For the purpose of this declaration, euthanasia is defined as a physician deliberately administering a lethal substance or carrying out an intervention to cause the death of a patient with decision-making capacity at the patient's own voluntary request. Physician-assisted suicide refers to cases in which, at the voluntary request of a patient with decision-making capacity, a physician deliberately enables a patient to end his or her own life by prescribing or providing medical substances with the intent to bring about death.
"No physician should be forced to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide, nor should any physician be obliged to make referral decisions to this end.
"Separately, the physician who respects the basic right of the patient to decline medical treatment does not act unethically in forgoing or withholding unwanted care, even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient."
Dr Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing, commented: "This is welcome news, yet again doctors around the world are declaring their strong opposition to killing their patients, or assisting them in killing themselves.
"This latest clear and unequivocal statement mirrors similar declarations from The American Medical Association (AMA), which says in its Code of Medical Ethics that assisted suicide and euthanasia "is fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks."
Dr Macdonald continued: "Doctors have seen the worrying evidence from the small number of places that have introduced either assisted suicide or euthanasia, ripping up long-held universal protections, that treat all people equally regardless of disability, age or terminal disease. They see how the lives of vulnerable people are put at risk by abuse or pressure - real or perceived - to end their lives prematurely.
"Last month, a major US study from the National Council on Disability, found the laws in the handful of states that had gone down this route, were ineffective and oversight of abuse and mistakes was absent.
"While in the US states of Oregon and Washington, more than half of those ending their lives cite the fear of being a burden as a reason, not because of their condition.
"Problems in other jurisdictions can also be seen. In Canada, which only changed their law in 2016, a Canadian academic reported a four-fold increase between 2016-18 in those ending their lives in this way, from 1,010 - 4235.
"In July a depressed, but otherwise healthy 61-year-old man, was euthanised in the province of British Columbia. Alan Nichols, a former school janitor who lived alone, had struggled with depression, was admitted to Chilliwack General Hospital, BC, received a lethal injection despite not being terminally ill.
"Alan's case is not isolated. There are a growing numbers of reports that terminally ill patients and those with chronic conditions are being denied care, but offered the drugs to kill themselves. In one such case, Roger Foley from Ontario who suffers from a neurological disease, recorded hospital staff offering him a 'medically assisted death', despite his repeated statements that he did not want to die and wanted to return to his home.
"Then in September, the Quebec Superior Court struck down the requirement that a person is terminally ill before they qualify for euthanasia. It is still unclear how far this ruling goes.
"This is why not a single major doctors group or disability rights organisation supports changing the law in the UK. And why Parliamentarians across our Country have repeatedly rejected attempts to introduce assisted suicide and euthanasia - more than ten times since 2003 out of concern for public safety. The current laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia do not need changing."
If you are affected by any details in this report, and would like to talk to someone, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day see: www.samaritans.org
World Medical Association www.wma.net/
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